It’s a pity that most folk, Yours Truly included, don’t really grasp how to perform mitzvot adom l’chaveiro. Recently, while enjoying a salad at a local bakery, I witnessed the actions of a master of this way of living. This leader seemed to be a Yid who engaged in acts of loving kindness for Hashem’s sake, not for his own personal gain.
Specifically, the Jew on view, whom I’ll call “Manasseh,” enacted continuous, unexaggerated, humble consideration to another Jew, whom I’ll call “Ephraim.” Ephraim, you see, was troubled by some kind of cognitive difference.
Ephraim, despite sitting in a public eatery, and despite being somewhere past middle age, called out, whistled, smacked his own face loudly, and so forth. Nonetheless, Manasseh did not respond to his buddy, but, instead engaged him. That is, Manasseh did not react, but chose to participate proactively, chose to communicate with his associate in a way that is typical of dining with friends or with family members. Manasseh proffered no jarred movements or articulations, did not hesitate when it was his turn in conversation, and made no sour faces.
Perhaps Ephraim had been Manasseh’s chavrusa for decades, and had had, as of late, a stroke or other incapacitating experience. In that case, Manasseh was treating his dear one as the valuable neshemah he long knew his dear one to be. Alternatively, perhaps Ephraim was a relative of Manasseh’s, a brother, an uncle, or a cousin, whom Manasseh cherished all of his years despite Moshe’s apparent trials. Looked at in yet another way, perhaps, Ephraim was a neighbor, a member of a community Beit Kinesset, or some other nonfamilial relation to Manasseh. Then again, maybe, Ephraim was a gifted scholar with a speech impediment plus other hardships.
I will never know those men’s connection. I do not need to. I need only to be aware that
Manasseh’s interpersonal communication was as matter of fact to him as was the way he spread his butter on his bread and as was the way he sipped his seltzer. His tone of voice was neither patronizing nor impatient. His interactions were remarkably because they were not noteworthy. Specifically, he treated his companion as most of us would treat folks who were not similarly distressed.
After the men bentched, they left the shop. On their way out, Ephraim continued to gesture and to sound off in his seemingly random way. Manasseh continued to talk to his associate about the sorts of things about which most people speak; the weather, the upcoming holiday of Chanukah, a bit of the Parsha, and a nearby shop’s sale on socks.
I believe that Ephraim, either cognitively, or somewhere deeper in his soul, depending on the specific nature of his inner difference, knows and appreciates that Manasseh treats him like a mensch. I believe that Manasseh values Ephraim. I am grateful for both of them.
As I finished my cucumbers and radishes, I thought about what I have been blessed to behold. I reflected, as well, on my own inability to be inconspicuously considerate to individuals whose public presence differs from mine.
Too often, I am gracious only when it is easy to do so. Saying “yes” to a request when I am rested is far easier than is saying “yes” when I am fatigued. Likewise, too often, I offer up compassion when I have time or am in the right mood. Providing emotional sustenance for others when I am “high” from life feels as thought it takes fewer resources than does providing emotional sustenance for others when I am encumbered. In the same way, benevolence whose “benefits” are known to me appears less complicated than does benevolence whose “benefits” are known only to Hashem.
Apart from my level of development in the area of extending Kavod toward others,
I received a gift when observing Ephraim and Manasseh interrelate. My erudition came in from noting Manasseh’s unaffected respect for his cohort. My education came, as well, from seeing Ephraim’s regard of their outing as normal and from seeing him consider his breakfast partner’s thoughtfulness as de rigueur.
Hashem created each and every one of our neshemot. Sadly, it still takes a “big” person to communicate in a way that disregards those small, truly unimportant differences that all of us harbor and an even bigger person to overlook the irregularities extended toward him in making social meaning. In my esteem, Manasseh is a giant from whom I must learn. Yet, Ephraim is my teacher whose footprint is even bigger.